MANILA, Philippines - Back in December, I was asked to make recommendations of the films participating in the 38th Metro Manila Film Festival. In that article, I described Ruel S. Bayani’s "One More Try" as a “potentially controversial melodrama.”
I was speaking then of the movie’s plot, which seemed to me original and intriguing, and the moral conundrums it would spawn. To those who haven’t bothered seeing the movie, here it is: former lovers, played by Dingdong Dantes and Angel Locsin, are forced to reunite to save the life of their child, who is suffering from a blood-borne disease. To cure the child, the estranged couple must conceive another child together, who will then serve as bone marrow donor for the first child.
The problem is that both parties are now attached to someone else, and issues of fidelity come to play.
It turns out that I was right in saying that the movie would be controversial, but I was wrong when it came to the reason why it would be controversial. Well, I was half-right; I thought that the controversy would center on how the movie would resolve its plot, not where the plot came from.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few weeks, here is the gist of the controversy: it has been pointed out that the plot of "One More Try" is similar to that of a 2007 Chinese movie called "In Love We Trust." The earliest of these posts I could find online date back to even before the film was shown in cinemas.
But the issue really took hold when "One More Try" won Best Picture and Best Screenplay awards during the film festival awards night.
Most of reviews of "One More Try" have touched on the issue of plot similarities between the two movies, some even bemoaning the fact such brazen copying — without so much as an acknowledgement that it was inspired by — was done by a major film studio, especially in light of the embarrassing plagiarism performed by one of our esteemed senators and his staff.
Now, I think that to equate these two instances is wrong and misses the point. On the one hand, we have a simple, clear-cut case of plagiarism where someone took the ideas, and the very words in which they were expressed, by other individuals and presented them as his own (though, of course, everyone knows that such speeches are likely written by staff members).
In the case of "One More Try" and "In Love We Trust," what we have here is something much more complex but not completely foreign.
Here are the trailers of the two films:
'One More Try'
'In Love We Trust'
Now if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to digress a bit and play a game with you.
Tell me if this movie plot sounds familiar:
A group of young adults are gathered by their totalitarian government to compete in an annual fight-to-the-death contest designed to keep its citizens in check through fear and intimidation.
If you said that that was the plot to the 2000 Japanese movie "Battle Royale," which was also based on a novel of the same title by Koushun Takami, you’d also be correct.
Now if you’re the suspicious kind, you’d say something like, “The makers of 'The Hunger Games' copied the concept from 'Battle Royale'.” And you would not be the first to say so.
Ever since "The Hunger Games," the novel, was first published, author Suzanne Collins has been hounded by accusations of plagiarism from fans of "Battle Royale," which flared up again last year when the movie adaptation was released. Collins has claimed that she hadn’t even heard of the Japanese novel and its many adaptations until after finishing her novel, which only angered those accusing her plagiarism more.
Here are the trailers of these two other films:
'The Hunger Games'
I bring this instance up to show that similarities in plot are not uncommon in books, television shows, and movies.
I feel that the problem people have with "One More Try" is mainly linked with the antiquated notion that originality equals creativity, when this isn’t the case.
Anyone who works in the creative industries (and this includes movies and TV) will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to think of a wholly original idea that no one has done before. At best, someone has thought of it and done it badly, or someone’s done it well but it can be improved upon.
I tried my best to obtain a legal copy of "In Love We Trust," so I can at least make a reasoned comparison between the two movies. But it isn’t legally available here which, I think, is the bigger shame.
But even without seeing it, I can reasonably tell you that the similarities between it and "One More Try" end with the basic plot, as both movies were done by different people from different cultures in different contexts. "One More Try" is so distinctly Filipino in its melodramatic execution and dogged insistence on giving everyone a happy ending, so to speak.
This, of course, doesn’t absolve Star Cinema, from at least acknowledging that their movie was, in some way, inspired by "In Love We Trust." If that is the case, that is.
This isn’t the first time — and it certainly won’t be the last — that something like this comes up.
I distinctly remember the local Internet community abuzz last year with charges that character designs and special effects sequences from Mac Alejandre’s Panday sequel were copied from the Hollywood movie "Clash of the Titans." And if you bother to look up some of the comedies from the '80s and '90s you’ll find more blatant instances of copyright infringement to moan about.
"Alyas Batman en Robin?" "Starzan?" "She-Man?"
I think the real issue here isn’t so much about originality, as it is our concern for the fate of mainstream Philippine cinema and, in turn, Filipino moviegoers.
The local independent movie scene might be flourishing and filling the gaps the aesthetic gap that mainstream cinema has left behind, but the bitter truth is that the audiences for these films here are limited to cineastes and students (see the fate of "Thy Womb").
I think that there’s this conversation at all is a manifestation of our demand to see more substantial risk-taking mainstream movies, even if they happen to be inspired by a foreign movie. - Rappler.com
(Francis Quina teaches Creative Writing, Literature and English in UP Diliman.)
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